The British government could be about to intervene for a second time in Libya after its first intervention failed to create a stable government after the fall of Colonel Gaddafi.
Government sources say they are “extremely concerned” about the rise of Islamic State and other jihadist groups in what is increasingly looking like a failed state.
One source told the Telegraph that ministers were “moving in the direction” of sending some military support to Libya alongside European allies.
The plans will raise concerns, however, as the government previously intervened in the country just four years ago to help rebels overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. Since that intervention, the rebel groups have splintered, with radical Islamist groups, including Islamic State, taking control of vast swathes of the country.
The UN estimates there are between 2,000 and 3,000 fighters in the region, with Islamic State controlling a stretch of coastline around the city of Sirte.
Italy has been drawing up a plan to help any Libyan government stay in power, but it will first have to wait for the country to appoint an internationally recognised government.
One source said: “There needs to be a recognised government in place in Libya that can ask us for help – then we will do whatever we can to help them deal with Isil,” while another added: “We are not at the decision point on what to do. You need an effective government of sorts to invite you to do stuff, which is what’s lacking at the moment.”
Rival groups have agreed to discussing signing a United Nations-backed national unity agreement next week, but hard liners are casting doubt on whether this can really happen.
British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said it is important to “keep an eye on Libya”, but for the time being the UK will focus on tackling Islamic State in Syria. “It’s important, as the Prime Minister said, to deal with the head of the snake because that’s where the brain is.”